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5 Ways to Avoid Getting into Legal Trouble With Rights Management

Maddie Synoground

By Maddy Synoground | Nov 11, 2021

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Have you ever worried that someone in your organization might use a photo that could get you in legal trouble? If so, you aren’t alone. Digital assets created outside your organization are easy to misuse. Spending the time to make sure your organization can identify and distribute usage rights around all your assets is crucial to ensuring the proper use of your digital content.

Have you ever spent hours searching for the perfect image for a website, blog, billboard, or publication, only to find that you don’t have permission to use it, or even worse, you don’t know if you have permission to use it? Tracking down this information can be time-consuming, and often, confusing. When one question is answered, more questions follow. Who took the photo? When can we use it? Where can we use it? Do we have to pay to use it? If so, have we? To help you navigate the intimidating and often overwhelming world of rights management, we’ve outlined five ways to optimize your organization's metadata and workflows to ensure you never mishandle an asset.

5 Ways to Avoid Getting into Legal Trouble with your Assets

1. Understand Rights Management

Before implementing new processes or standards around your digital content, it’s important to understand what digital rights management is and how it works in your organization. According to an article by the Digital Guardian, digital rights management is “a way to protect copyrights for digital media.” Here are a few questions to consider to better understand your brand’s usage rights needs:

  1. What kind of digital content do we have?
  2. How do we use this content?
  3. Who creates our assets?

Answering these questions can help you develop new processes and standards to streamline the creation and distribution of digital rights in your organization.

2. Identify The Asset’s Creator

A general rule to follow when assessing the usage rights around an image is that if it's copyrighted, you need to ask permission to use it. In that case, you’ll need to find who the creator is (in most cases, it’s the photographer). Ideally, the copyright, as well as the photographer's information will be directly embedded in the metadata of the photo. However, this isn’t always the case, and tracking down this information can be tricky. If you can’t find who created the image, determine who in your organization typically clears rights for this kind of creative media. Knowing a digital asset’s typical lifecycle can help pinpoint what people and departments are involved. Once you’ve properly identified the source, here are some questions to consider to ensure your organization obtains the correct permissions:

  1. Where can we use it?
  2. For how long can we use it?
  3. How do we properly credit the photographer?

Once sufficient usage rights have been determined, be sure to embed it into the asset’s metadata for future reference. If your assets already live on a digital asset management (DAM) platform, it can easily be added by either a digital asset manager or an admin of your DAM platform. If you aren’t on a DAM, this can be done locally via various free applications. Going directly to the source and adding this information to the asset’s metadata will ensure proper use of the asset going forward.

3. Incorporate Usage Approvals into Your Workflow

One of the most effective ways to ensure all your assets are properly used inside and outside of your organization is to incorporate usage approvals. Usage approvals are a type of digital asset workflow where a user must request permission before downloading and using an asset. To implement something similar in your organization, understanding the lifecycle of your assets helps establish at what point and by whom usage rights are negotiated. Once you know this, you can then set parameters around requesting permission, establish timing expectations, and implement them into your creative workflows.

Example Workflow:

Content Creation -> Editing -> Review -> Approval -> Publish to DAM -> Request -> Approval to Use -> Distribution

4. Use Automated Rights Management Solutions

While getting a handle on rights management can be as simple as implementing new processes or creating standards around your metadata, many DAM platforms provide built-in, automated solutions. As long as each asset has applicable metadata, assets can have both expiration and archival dates and strict permissions can be set around who in your organization has access to it. In addition, there can be triggers that notify the necessary teams that they have a certain amount of time before they must either discontinue the use of the asset or negotiate additional usage terms. Understanding what technologies exist and continuously evaluating the needs of your organization can help guide you in finding and implementing the right solution.

5. Ensure Only Rights-Ready Assets Go into Your DAM

One of the biggest challenges we see our clients and many other organizations facing today is determining what exactly goes into their DAM. Ideally, your DAM should house only rights-ready assets.. This is one of the best ways to prevent misuse and add as much clarity around your assets as possible. Whether this means manual usage approvals by a team member, implementing different permission levels, or built-in automated solutions, enriching your digital assets with robust usage rights and ensuring only these assets make into your DAM will ensure your assets truly are ‘ready for use.’


Depending on your organization, your types of assets, and how you use them, digital rights management can either be as straightforward as tightening up your metadata, or as cumbersome as migrating to a DAM platform with extensive rights management solutions. Whatever the case may be, Stacks can help! We offer numerous consulting and management solutions to help your team optimize its valuable digital assets and streamline its creative workflows. Whether you’re currently on a DAM and need help with standards and adoption, or you’re working off a hard drive, the Stacks team can help you make the most of your content libraries.

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